The Lama Does Maui

Thousands came together to hear the Dalai Lama’s message of peace

Don Chapman
Wednesday - May 16, 2007
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The Dalai Lama greets the crowd at the stadium
The Dalai Lama greets the crowd at the stadium

The 14th Dalai Lama arrives at the Renaissance Wailea Beach Resort on a Maui No Ka Oi kind of day - trade winds rustling palm fronds overhead, the turquoise sea shimmering in afternoon sunlight, the sweet scent of plumeria in the air.

So too is irony.

Because greeting the winner of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize on Maui is a security force worthy of the president. In the lobby of the Renaissance and patrolling the halls are burly young men wearing earpieces and loose-fitting suit coats, slight bulges beneath a shoulder or at the ankle. As I’m waiting outside a conference room to interview the Dalai Lama’s representative in the United States, diplomat Tashi Wangdi, a young woman in waitress outfit who sure looks a lot like a female agent walks past, followed minutes later by two of those young men with a bomb-sniffing German shepherd. Oh, and here comes a black-clad SWAT guy from the Maui Police Department.

In fact, the U.S. State Department has sent 44 security personnel here, its version of the Secret Service that protects the president. Then there’s the plain-clothes Maui police lieutenant, hanging outside with the bell desk guys. All of this is in addition to the Lama’s regular security detail, and they’re just the ones you can see, out there obviously showing the colors.

The Dalai Lama’s message of peace, compassion, tolerance, nonviolence and unity are, apparently, dangerous notions - and for some people, quite frightening.

“There are many people who might wish to see His Holiness harmed,” says Mr. Wangdi, who heads the Tibetan Government In Exile’s New York office, one of 10 around the world.

There are crazy, angry people, he explains, and just a week after the tragic Virginia Tech massacre you can’t argue with that.

There are also religious zealots of all stripes, although their basic theology boils down to “There is only one god, buster, and it’s mine!”

And there is the Chinese government, which 48 years after invading Tibet continues to do all it can to wipe out Tibetan language, culture and religion. Today, just 6 million Tibetans live in Tibet, and the Communist government has moved in 11 million Chinese, with more on the way. And the sooner the 14th Dalai Lama - 72 and in obvious good health - is gone, the Communists get to pick their own Dalai Lama, one who is simpatico with Chinese policy in Tibet, as they did with another significant Buddhist leader, the Panchen Lama.

“If this happens,” Mr. Wangdi says, “if His Holiness is not allowed to return to an autonomous Tibet and he dies in exile, we will not recognize the Chinese Dalai Lama, just as we don’t recognize their Panchen Lama. Tibetan people will find the real 15th Dalai Lama in the traditional way.”

Speaking to a rapt<br />
Speaking to a rapt audience

The Chinese constitution allows for autonomous regions, such as Mongolia. Another round of talks on this subject with Chinese leaders is planned for mid-summer. Mr. Wangdi is cautiously hopeful. The constitution is one thing, Communist bureaucrats quite another.

The clearest argument against the Chinese claim that Tibet has always been a part of the “motherland” is this historical fact: For centuries, the peaceful Buddhists of Tibet and their lamas received protection from the Khans of Mongolia. The Mongolian Empire spread from Korea and China in the east down to Southeast Asia and through today’s Middle East all the way to the Mediterranean. “But,” Mr. Wangdi says, “the Khans always let Tibet be Tibet.”

The term Dalai Lama, in fact, was given by one of the Khans to an auspicious lama who was his teacher. The term means “Ocean of Wisdom.” It is from him that the 14th, and each of the previous lamas, is reincarnated.

So you could say that the burly young men in the lobby and halls of the Renaissance Wailea, and the two police snipers with AR-15 rifles on the press box roof of Wailuku’s War Memorial Stadium (another irony) the next two days for public talks by the Dalai Lama, are in effect reincarnations of the Khans.

As ever, they are needed.

Before going further: What exactly is a lama? In Tibetan understanding, it is a living Buddha, one who is either a reincarnation of a past lama or one who has attained enlightenment in this lifetime. Both men and women can attain Buddhahood.

So what is the Dalai Lama’s dangerous message?

“We are social animals. For an individual to live a happy life - this I believe is the point of life - and even our individual existence, it depends very much on other people,” he says at the stadium while seated cross-legged in a high-backed chair beneath a teardrop-shaped silver canopy. In folding chairs arrayed across the football field and seated up in the bleachers, 10,000 people, including a thousand school children, listen in rapt silence. “And the main element that can bring people together, is it not compassion?”

We are all born with this compassion, he explains. The moment we’re born, unable to fend for ourselves, we rely on the compassion of others. Mothers, despite the pain of childbirth, immediately begin to nurse their babies.

The Dalai Lama's sense of humor is contagious as he meets and greets followers
The Dalai Lama’s sense of humor is contagious
as he meets and greets followers

“Birth,” he says, “that experience stays with us - that seed of compassion. I understand, from my own mother.”

Life’s experiences, he also understands, can cause anger, fear, jealousy, insecurity, vindictiveness: “It is unrealistic to think you can eliminate all frustrations, but we can work to eliminate mental stresses. This is not a religious statement, but scientific.”

Love and compassion can “remain suppressed” by negative emotions, especially in a modern world that seems to run ever faster on the fuel of competition: “These negative emotions can become the determining force ... so problems increase and spread.”

If anyone has justifiable cause to be angry, bitter and vengeful, it is the 14th Dalai Lama, once the spiritual and governmental leader of the nation of Tibet. Driven from the capital of Lhasa in 1959 as Chinese army guns closed in, he escaped over the Himalayas and established a new home in Dharamsala, India. It’s said that certain elements of the Indian army were ready to help him regain Tibet, for they as well as the Chinese historically viewed the Tibetan plateau as a buffer between the two Asian powers.

But the Dalai Lama was having none of that.

“I lost my country,” he says. “I am a refugee. Through all of this, my most reliable friend has been compassion ... Some friends have been imprisoned by the Chinese. One monk in his 80s, after being imprisoned for 18 years, recently came to India. He said that through that time, he was in danger - in danger of losing his compassion for the Chinese. Today you see no sign of trauma there. Because the most reliable source of strength and calm is compassion.”

But this is not a passive compassion.

“The idea that whatever happens, let it happen, I think this is wrong,” he says. “We know some food is good for you and some food is bad for you. Likewise with emotions, some are good for you, others are bad. We have ‘mental food’ within ourselves. We have a supermarket of emotions right here ...” - he taps his head. “Some emotions are natural, but that does not mean they’re good for you, so distance yourself. With practice - for weeks, months, years - positive emotions grow stronger. By that way, your physical health also improves, and your communication with other humans becomes happier ... It is the same on the international level.”

Later, during a question-and-answer session, he is asked about the often divisive nature of religion. Having emphasized that Buddhism is not so much a religion as a philosophy of happiness, and that Buddhism does not worship any god but is based on

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